Universiteit Leiden

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Looking at the past with VR glasses: 'It really helps to visualise the impact of policy'

A subject like history is all about the past. That often involves scrolling through old documents, but in the Research Master's in History, Professor Dario Fazzi takes a different approach. His students work with Virtual Reality.

Fazzi and his students are concerned with the impact of political policies on delta regions, which is often characterised by abstract ecological concepts and scenarios. ‘Virtual Reality is a tool to introduce students to the real-life effects of policies in a clear, visual way,’ Fazzi explains.

The students are shown different situations that include the possible effects of a new law or an amendment to a law.  'This gives exchange students who are unfamiliar with the Dutch delta and how policy can affect it a picture of the situation in a simple and effective way,' Fazzi explains. 'This also applies to the Dutch students, who can gain a view of deltas from other areas.'

A young woman with dark hair and dark clothes is wearing a white pair of VR-goggles
Lola Verkade using VR-goggles

Making impact visible

That intercultural component is useful, because Fazzi's lecture is part of a virtual exchange programme, in which Dutch students collaborate with students from the United States. According to the four Leiden students, VR is a good addition to that. 'For a subject like history, it can be used nicely to show the changes over time. But I don't know if it’s suitable for every subject or project,' says Lola Verkade. 

Louis van de Mortel also sees a possible downside to using VR. 'When you have the glasses on, you not only hear the video, but also the people in the physical space around you. I found it distracting, even though we were only in a small group. Still, Louis is also positive. 'Using a technology like this really helps with making the impact on nature visible. Not just from policy, but certainly from climate change.'

Bypassing physical barriers

Fazzi also sees potential for using VR in regular classes. 'Virtual Reality can be a very good addition to existing teaching methods because it bypasses physical barriers. Then you have to think not only about creating virtual environments in which students can work together regardless of location or showing historical landscapes. It also offers opportunities to bring students with physical disabilities to places normally not accessible to them, without the technology requiring much expertise.'

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